Sunday, April 25, 2010

Well, it's finally happened.

I'm thirty! It's going to be a good decade. I can tell.

Still hard at work on my new novel, though I've been in a scramble to come up with money this month. My goodness, but this economy sucks.

Today I got an affectionate snoofle from a beautiful seventeen-foot-tall, four-year-old giraffe, and got to spend the early morning watching a bunch of gazelle, oryx, and zebra kick up their heels and enjoy the new day. Those experiences by themselves were more than enough of a great birthday gift for me...but I also got to talk to many of my wonderful friends and have dinner with my super-cool mom. I'm a lucky, lucky person, even if I'm broke.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


Yes, you.

Go to a book store. Buy a copy of The Great Gatsby. Read it (or, like me, re-read it for the first time since it was assigned to you in high school.)


Friday, April 16, 2010

Leaving Egypt for a while.

I am way burnt out on ancient Egypt. I have two books set in Egypt outlined and one partially written, and I need a break from that setting.

I am researching and plotting a book that falls somewhere between literary fiction and fantasy. Literary fantasy? Maybe. It's weird, I can tell you that. And it involves birds. Lots and lots of birds.

I really need to scour my brain by writing something heavily literary for a while. I feel like I've been reining in my creativity by sticking too close to what's commercial and therefore safe. I want to go all out, get weird, and get very uglypretty. It's going to be a fun ride.

First, though, a synopsis. Gotta write a synopsis.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

What's this...a paycheck?

Settle down; it's not for my book (yet.)

I will soon be officially employed once more, working a very part-time shift as an "attendant," the ultimate foot-in-the-door position at Woodland Park Zoo. I'm very excited, since it's extremely difficult to land an attendant position at WPZ (and everybody starts out as an attendant, unless they already have significant animal care experience on their resume from other facilities.) I'll still need to draw unemployment to make up for the gap in my expenses that this job will NOT fill, but I'm beyond thrilled at the opportunity. I'll be working with birds -- yay! My favorite!

And who knows -- my book may sell sooner than I expect, and keep me afloat while I wedge that foot farther inside the door. Sure would be nice to wedge it in far enough that I can get benefits! Oh, this economy. What can we do but shrug and laugh about it?

The best part is that this job will leave me with PLENTY of time to continue to write like a crazy woman. My plan of turning in three new novels to my agent before year's end should continue unimpeded. And given how productive I can be this summer, who knows? Maybe I'll be able to get a multiple-book deal. A girl can dream!

Maybe I won't have to butcher my book after all.

After waking in despair yesterday morning over my epiphany about having started the book in the wrong place, I decided to press on for one more chapter just to see what would happen. And you know, I think it just might work after all. So I am proceeding with the outline I've got now for Book 2, and I'll let Natalie (my agent) tell me whether she thinks I started it in the wrong place.

I'm just going to shut up and write.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


I both love and hate when I discover an author or book that is so good it makes me wonder whether I will ever be that awesome. I hate it, because I feel some jealousy over these authors' ideas, styles, and methods. I wish I'd thought of their books first.

And I love it, because it gives me something to aim for. I like having the bar raised consistently higher.

Today I downloaded the audiobook of Clare Clark's The Nature of Monsters for my trip to the gym. I am only twenty minutes into it (painful ladycramps prevented me from doing my usual two-hour ass-busting at the gym) and already I know it's a love/hate book. I am not surprised that I love it so much, yet it has only an average of three stars in Audible's reviews. Often the books I enjoy the most are the ones that sharply divide readers. I like darkness, despair, icky sexuality, and raw, unpleasant emotion. That doesn't spell a great time with a book for every reader.

But it does for me.

Go buy it now.

It's been a while...

Between visiting my new niece (cute!), juggling job interviews, going to my friend Lisa Graff's book signing, and a few other various and sundry tasks, I haven't updated my blog in an entire week. Crazy! Well, let's recap the week, for starters.

Agatha June is a healthy and happy little girl, born at home, 11 pounds even. My sister is 6'2" and she grows huge babies. Big brother Henry really seems to like her, only occasionally offering to crush or poke her, and frequently sharing his monster trucks (which she does not care about, of course.) My sister recovered from the birth in about ten seconds and is back to her usual self. Apparently she is some kind of Amazon.

I finally landed an interview at the zoo where I ultimately want to work long-term. It's unbelievably hard to get a foot in the door there, and I am beyond psyched to have a chance, especially since their budget has been tightened up even more this year and there are few new positions offered. But it sounds like I got the job -- I'll be raising baby birds for a meager eight hours a week, with occasional extra hours picked up as a relief person, taking on other tasks when other keepers are sick or on vacation. I'll take it! It's a starting point, and my huge foot is in the door, and from here I am very confident that I can make an excellent name for myself, as I have at other facilities, so that when an opportunity with more hours arrives, I will be the first candidate everybody has in mind. Plus: BABY BIRDS! As an insane bird nut, this fills me with joy. I only regret that I will get to spend a mere eight hours per week with baby birds. I would prefer a million zillion hours per day.

I'll take advantage of the fact that this job offers almost no hours and continue my breakneck writing output through the summer. I will be a machine. I'd like to wrap up Book 2 by the end of May and get Book 3 all finished by midsummer, so I can start something non-Egyptian by the late summer. My agent is going to soil herself when I hand her three more historical novels to sell by the fall.

My pal Lisa Graff came into town for a children's book conference, and a local teacher who loves her books (with good reason -- Lisa is the bomb) set up a signing for her at a Borders store. Not too many people came who didn't already know Lisa, but it was short-notice, and Lisa didn't seem to care. We had a great time catching up, and Lisa sold almost all the copies of her latest midgrade novel, Umbrella Summer, that were in the store. Yay!! I am really excited for her next MG novel. She's still working on it. She's got a chapter book coming out next, and then her fifth book will be out, and I can't wait to get my paws on it. It's about kids who dare each other to do increasing more horrible pranks, and it sounds suspiciously like one of the characters is based on my husband, who grew up with Lisa, and who led all the children of Big Bear, California in their awful misdeeds. Plus, it sounds like this fifth book will be a lot like Lisa's second, The Life and Crimes of Bernetta Wallflower, which has the distinction of being one of the few books, for kids or otherwise, that I literally could not put down. I lost almost a whole night of sleep over that book, and I am eagerly awaiting another like it. ;)

While at Lisa's signing, I met another local author, Richard Farr, author of Emperors of the Ice. This book sounds like exactly my cup of tea -- it's technically nonfiction, but written in a novel-like style. I can't wait to get a hold of it. Richard was a fascinating guy, and we had a lengthy discussion about the ups and downs of that whole "getting published" process. He has a manuscript out there, a book on rational thinking for teens, that keeps making it all the way to Acquisitions and then getting kicked back because they just don't know how to label and market nonfiction for teens. Arrgh! This is a book we sorely need, and I am rooting for Richard big-time.

Anyway. It was a good old time, and I am eager to do my own book signings, even if the only people who show up are my friends. We had fun, and that's what it's all about, right?

Meanwhile, writing has continued, though the word count of Book 2 is actually shrinking the more I write. I have written the fifth/sixth/seventh chapter triad more times than I care to count, each time deleting it after a day or so of rumination because something about it just isn't quite right. This morning I woke up with a terrible epiphany: I've started the story in the wrong place, as I did with my last novel. I've begun the tale when my main characters are just too young, and to continue like this will make the book too YA, which won't be a strong follow-up for Bride of Amun, which is decidedly adult in spite of the fact that the main character of that one is thirteen at the beginning of the story. Book 2 is just to darn young, and that means not only the fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters will probably be cut again once I finish this blog post and get to work, but likely chapters one through four, too.

I could be starting over again with a blank slate. A sick feeling, but at least I know from past experience that once I hit on the correct beginning, the rest will come ripping right out of my head like a stooping falcon, and the book will practically write itself.

Why do beginnings have to be so hard for me? The Alliterati recently asked on their blog whether beginnings, middles, or ends are easier for their readers. Endings are always the easiest for me. I actually see in my mind a few images from the endings of my books and stories. A final tableau, a last scene. All the writing I do is just propellant to get me to that final image. I've got an image in my head of Hatshepsut, a strong young woman, dressed in the regalia of a king, crossing the crook and flail over her bared breasts, proclaiming herself Pharaoh to a crowd of rekhet that is drunk with love for her. It's the final scene of my book. But I am having a hell of a time kick-starting the ride that will take me to that image.

Nothing to do but keep writing!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A girl!!

Hooray, I have a niece! I only have one sibling and she only wanted to have two kids, so it's great to get one of each.

I am on my way up to her house now to meet little Agatha. I bet she has red hair like her mommy and her big brother! :D

I'm the happiest auntie in the world. Only an email from my agent telling me Ballantine or William Morrow (or one of the other awesome publishers who received my pitch letter) wants to buy my book could make today any more fantastical!

It's going to be a good day!

My sister woke me up at 5:00 this morning to tell me she's in labor and is doing just fine. They are planning another home birth (their last one with two-year-old Henry went just fine, but they live two blocks from a hospital with a NICU, so nobody worry!) but don't know the sex of the baby this time, since all previous attempts to find out were thwarted by the child. He/she is already a trouble-maker, between refusing to reveal his/her sex and moving "like a linebacker" in the womb. It's another big baby, too! The midwife says it's the same size as Henry was during this stage of growth, and Henry was just shy of eleven pounds when he was born. (My sis is 6'2", so huge babies are to be expected.)

Needless to say, I am beyond excited to meet little Jasper or Agatha. (If it's a boy, he is decidedly NOT being named after the Twilight character. My sis has always liked the name, and I agree! Neither of us is fond of Twilight. She's really taking one for the team, because at least for a few years, everybody is going to assume she's a Twimom. :D ) I adore my nephew Henry and am so happy to have another member in our awesome family! My sister and brother-in-law are WONDERFUL parents, and I am so thrilled for them!

Does this tie into writing? Indeed it does! At Henry's birth, my sister asked me to be present for support and to take pictures (and to see to the needs of the two midwives, the two student-assistants my sister graciously allowed to come along, and Dad!) What a gift! Not many people get to see the birth of any child, unless they're midwives or OB-GYNs. Fewer people in today's world get to see the natural birth of a child, with the mother unmedicated and experiencing all the stages of labor fully, free to move herself around as she needs rather than being confined to a bed or even a single hospital room. :)

It was a powerful experience, and I drew on it to write the birth scene in my novel. Later, when women who'd had natural births beta-read my book, they told me nobody who reads it will believe I've never given birth myself. That is quite a compliment! I guess I did something right. I owe a lot to my sister!

Much of the first half of my novel involves the main character fearing birth, and avoiding her "duty" because of this fear. In order to understand what my sister would go through when she brought Henry into the world, I studied everything about natural childbirth I could get my hands on. Like most of biology, I found it fascinating, and I learned way, WAY more about pregnancy, labor, and birth than most child-free people ever know. I am grateful to my sister for educating me about the process and for asking me to be there when Henry was born. Not only was it amazing, but it helped me understand what my character feared as a spectator of births, and what she would experience physically as a mother birthing a child.

I may end up heading to her house later this morning. Henry, at two, is as well prepared as any toddler can be. He is excited to meet the baby and likes reading his picture book about home births (written to give kids like him some idea of what to expect.) But he is just two, and getting over a viral infection, and might have a hard time with the birth, especially when Mommy starts to make some noise. I am on call and ready to swoop in to distract him with trains and hugs if it becomes necessary. :)

In addition to that exciting news, I was also given a Butterfly Award by Stephanie over at Hatshepsut: The Writing of a Novel. Yay! I'm a coooool blooooogggg! Thanks, Stephanie! I found Stephanie's blog while googling for "Hatshepsut novel," trying to make sure I hadn't missed any published novels before I put too much work into my Hatshepsut books. Stephanie is a hard-working writer, being a history teacher, a mom, and a novelist who just began querying her first book. I have no doubt she'll get published, and together we will revive and popularize Egyptian fiction! Woohoo!!

Well, back to bed, with the hopes that I can get a little more sleep this morning. Not likely to happen, though.

Monday, April 5, 2010

A female scribe?

I've been working, during my free time, on a large database of ancient Egyptian names. When I began writing Bride of Amun last summer, I enjoyed a very well researched, well compiled list of Egyptian names and relied on it for the naming of my supporting characters. Sadly, about halfway through he summer and the writing of my novel, it disappeared, taken down forever by its webmistress. A great wailing was heard in the Puget Sound, while I tore out my hair searching for a similarly reliable resource. None apparently exists. All the name lists on baby-naming sites that claim to be Egyptian probably are Egyptian, but combine ancient names with modern Arabic names, as well as names from the Greek and Roman periods, clearly influenced by the trends and peoples of the time. I needed a good list of Dynastic Egyptian names, but couldn't find any.

So once I'd completed Bride of Amun and had a little time to play, I started compiling my own list.

By writing down every name I read during research, I was able to make quite a list. Once I found the book The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, my list grew to an impressive size. Now I've begun scouring records of tombs on Digital Egypt and other University-run sites, and my list has become unwieldy. I am setting it up in its own nice little database, and once I've exhausted all my resources, I'll alphabetize it, sort it by male and female, and offer it up to the internet so other novelists -- or anybody else who needs a really Egyptian Egyptian name -- can have free access.

Anyway, in working through the lists of discovered tombs, I found the name of a woman called Irtyru. Virtually nothing is known about her, other than her name, that she was a scribe (an occupation usually reserved exclusively for men) and that she served a particular God's Wife of Amun called Nitiqert during the 25th Dynasty. And that's about it.

I am intrigued by the idea of a female scribe. I've done little learning so far about women and literacy in ancient Egypt. The assumption I've made during my book(s) is that women of high standing were educated. Why not? Women, although not what modern Westerners would call "equal," still had considerable respect and rights in Dynastic Egypt. I can't imagine why they would not be taught to read and write. But why so little evidence for professional female readers and writers in Egypt?

While cleaning my goat pens at work today, I mused on this Irtyru. My brain quickly went Yentl and I immediately thought of writing a Late Period Egypt where women weren't educated as a matter of course, and where Irtyru, slight and thin and without many primary sexual characteristics to speak of, would have to masquerade as a young man to achieve the education she desired. But that's just not what I really feel Egypt must have been like, and in any case, that's a bit of an expected take on such a story. Nothing surprising there. Plus, by the end of this summer I'll have two novels in which an Egyptian girl cross-dresses to fool those around her. I'm already shy enough of writing a fourth Egyptian novel for fear of being labeled a one-trick pony. I don't want to go REALLY one-trick here.

So I will continue to turn Irtyru over in my brain until some well-formed story starts to take place. What did she do for this Nitiqert God's Wife? Why did the God's Wife choose a woman as her scribe, and not a man? That's the angle from which I must approach this very intriguing puzzle. Somewhere in the questions I'll ask myself about Irtyru and how she came to serve the God's Wife lies a story that really wants to be told.

How do you develop your stories?

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Cradles? Who knows?

Apparently it is impossible to discover whether babies slept in cradles in New Kingdom Egypt. Or ever in ancient Egypt.

Oh, the woes of being a historical novelist!

Friday, April 2, 2010

I heart my group.

My plan to update the blog every day is not going so well. Things are awfully rough in my life right now, though, so I suppose that's to be expected! I'm keeping my chin up, though. Working on my novel is helping bolster my spirits tremendously.

I think it's extremely important for all serious writers to make regular use of critiques. It's true that we must develop the skills of self-critique. It's nigh on impossible to be an effective writer if you don't have some inkling of when you're doing really well and when you need to improve a scene, a passage, or a sentence. Or a word. However, it's also important to seek out the input of others whose opinions you can trust.

Lots of folks have great luck with finding critique partners online. I have certainly received some invaluable feedback from online critiques. However, I have had the best luck and the most consistent help with improvement from my weekly writers' group.

We meet every Thursday night at a local pub (chosen, I am told by the founding members, for its excellent food. And the food is excellent.) We order dinner and drinks if we're into that kind of thing (some of us aren't...usually) and after an hour or so of friendly chit-chat, we get to work reading and critiquing our weekly works.

I am the newest member of the group, and have been attending since early February. In that short time, I've learned more about producing clear prose than I've learned in the rest of my lifetime (and yes, I have been putting effort into writing well for nearly my whole lifetime -- since I was about eight years old, to be exact.) I am told fearlessly and helpfully every week what I need to fix about whatever short project I've brought for my dose of learning. I often tell my friends in the group that Thursday is the best day of the week for me. I look forward to receiving that feedback -- good or bad -- like nothing else.

So, you five readers ;), share your experiences with critiques and critiquers. I want to know how you all do it.